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Takács Quartet at Clarice Smith Center

The Takács Quartet's Saturday evening performance of music by Janáček, Britten, and Ravel was mixed. The second half of the program was given over to Ravel's Quartet in F, executed with a polished refinement and gentle flexibility within larger thoughts. The second movement (Assez vif-très rythmé), a pizzicato jam, was simultaneously vigorous and warm. The intimate Gildenhorn Recital Hall in the Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland is an ideal setting for chamber music. When the Takács were at their best, one seemingly experienced sound from all directions.

Janáček's programmatic String Quartet No. 1 ("Kreutzer Sonata") opened the program. The first violinist addressed the audience, speaking about the lovely slow theme taken from Beethoven that Janáček modifies and uses rhetorically in the third movement, to contrast the brooding scuffle representing the murderous husband of the story. The concise work, four movements all marked with some tempo variation of "Con moto," turns on a dime from one emotion to another. A sense of innocently confused questioning is evoked in the second movement, which could represent the conflicted wife in Tolstoy's novella.

Other Reviews:

Ivan Hewitt, Takács Quartet, Queen Elizabeth Hall, review (The Telegraph, October 20)

Andrew Clements, Takács Quartet – review (The Guardian, October 19)
Britten's String Quartet No. 1 in D was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, and then composed and premiered in the United States in 1941, when the composer was in his late twenties. Although composed during the war -- when Britten's pacifism caused him some trouble at home -- Edward Dusinberre, the first violinist of the Takács Quartet, generously described it as "a youthful, exuberant work." The Quartet's uneven performance did a disservice to an already flighty piece. One section of the playful final movement features the cellist jamming under a unison line by the upper three musicians; however, their unison sound was tense and not unified. Furthermore, the first movement contains extended sections of ultra-high notes played by the violins and viola over cello pizzicato. These slow, shrill clusters were painful to hear, with the three unblended upper strings vibrating at different speeds and the viola sounding in a range that was less than flattering. To quote the late theorist and pianist Ed Aldwell, "sawdust." With this in mind, perhaps the Takács's "youthful, exuberant" context to this conflicted work with its longingly homesick third movement is too simple, particularly for a composer who would go on to write the War Requiem twenty years later. Both depth and exuberance were missing from this performance of the Britten.

Hear the Takács Quartet at the Théâtre de la Ville, playing Ravel, Bartók, Dvořák, and Haydn. Click on the icon of the headphones to start the streaming audio. [France Musique]

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